"Urbanize & Insulate", a new book by Dylan Lamar puts climate change into context with the way communities large and small have developed over time. He discusses the history of mankind and its’ growth not only in population, but also in industrialization. It is in this perspective that community planning has taken place. Dylan examines how we got to where we are with the mix of high density city dwelling, sprawling suburbs, and disappearing tracts of undeveloped land. He then projects these choices into the future and decides for the sake of our environment better choices must be made.
Planning for the future of communities did not always consider the consequences of the city planners’ present actions. A lifetime of planning resulted in an ever increasing need for automobiles and that changed the fabric of the American life in more ways than one –ways that were not immediately recognized. Surprisingly, the things that disappeared as standard community amenities have become the very things that draw people to visit the older communities today – the corner store, the walkable areas, and lovely parks. Dylan is quick to point out that these need not disappear with the proper planning now, and are one of the key factors towards making better choices for the future.
“Urbanize and Insulate” considers alternatives to traditional development, but says even in a sustainable context, you must take everything into consideration. It references a study which has shown that even taking the idea of zero energy housing and building it in the wrong setting can result in higher carbon emissions per resident than an in-city apartment. “This case study reveals the tremendous environmental benefit of walkable, urban development. This is not to say we must all live in large multi-story apartment buildings however.”[U&I pg 34] It goes on to say “The most cost-effective first step toward addressing climate change and fossil fuel dependence is to effect a paradigm shift from auto-dependent suburbanism to walkable urbanism.”[U&I pg 34] It is looking at the entire picture and not one small part that will solve the puzzle.
So… just what is it that he thinks we need to do? Develop a Fossil-Fuel Exit Strategy! By planning how auto-dependent communities develop from where they are presently into walkable urban communities will result in less fuel consumption and greater community involvement in the very kind of amenities that disappeared from planning so long ago. “As some have described it, walkable urbanism is about ‘place making’ whereas drivable suburbanism is just ‘space taking’.” [U&I pg 43 – quoted from Smart Growth Vermont.]
Dylan’s fossil-fuel exit strategy examines in detail the structure of communities and how we can improve them from where they are headed to where they can be with changes that will improve carbon emissions and lifestyle quality. He breaks down each section of how a community is put together and how decisions were made traditionally and shows how a new way of thinking would benefit everyone. “New Urbanism”, a way to transition zoning so that single zoning areas are not the norm, opens up the ability to increase density while also improving the quality of neighborhoods. “By prioritizing the execution of a cohesive streetscape with a fluid gradation of density, various building and housing types as well as parking are seamlessly integrated.” [U&I 53]
From LEED to HERS to Energy Star ratings and more, Dylan compares sustainable practices and points out interesting facts that can make you re-think your position on them. “For instance, installing a floor grate at the entrance of a building (to minimize dirt and debris passage) earns one [LEED] point, whereas reducing a building’s heating and cooling load by 10% (a much more important and costly endeavor) earns just two points.” [U&I 71] The floor grate helps with air quality by keeping dirt from being tracked through the building, but is that half the equivalent in importance to reducing a building’s heating and cooling load by 10%? At some point to understand this type of sustainable building program you have to ask how much dirt, and how much heat and then start comparing apples and oranges – but can you then compare building A to building B in a standard fashion? (We won’t even talk about building C – they used bananas & figs instead!)
Dylan then focuses on the Passive House building standard – the most energy efficient standard to date as his fossil-fuel exit strategy. A super insulated and ventilated Passive House begins with the end in mind. If done properly, the planning that is done in the beginning and the care taken while it is under construction will result in a building that meets the strictest energy efficient building standard and result in the lowest carbon emissions to operate. This is true for new construction or renovations.
Taking Dylans’ ideas one can easily see that within the Passive House framework is also the ability to consider that floor grate to help improve air quality or other sustainable features. Passive House construction starts the debate with energy use – further carbon cutting practices such as re-using materials, reducing shipping areas, or choosing more sustainably produced materials can all be included in the project. Make that project a multi-family building in a walkable community and you are headed towards the new future that Dylan sees.
If you would like to obtain a copy of the book “Urbanize and Insulate” by Dylan Lamar, it is available through the Green Hammer website.